March 22, 2023

Do Not Look Away

“I can’t watch this.” That was my friend’s comment when she started watching a news special on the one-year anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine.

We talked about why it was so difficult to watch, and she recounted having heard about the atrocities committed, but what was so challenging to comprehend was what she called the sheer insanity of it.

One man decided to try to recreate a bygone empire and started firing missiles into another country so he could add it to his “kingdom.” In an instant, hundreds of people lost their lives. Thousands were wounded. Millions of others were displaced from their homes. Families were separated. Global food shortages and political instability followed.

To compound this situation, she related how helpless she felt to do anything that would make the situation better. As we continued to talk, what emerged was how easy it was to feel helpless in the face of so much suffering around the world.

From the possibility of another global conflict to seeing the number of unhoused people on our local streetcorners, a sense of overwhelm can easily take over. Looking away is a natural response when we feel like we can’t create change; when the situation seems so big, and our efforts seem so small.

Yet the season of Lent requires that we not look away. Lent is about keeping our eyes focused on those who are suffering. Lent asks us to observe and to act. It’s not enough just to pray. That’s why the traditional Lenten offering is to pray, to give, and to fast. Prayer must be accompanied by Spirit-inspired action.

If we turn away from the suffering of others, we disengage from our faith. If we look at the suffering of others and do nothing, we disengage from our faith. What’s the path through? How can we serve others as our faith demands, and at the same time care for ourselves?

As leaders, we’re called to guide our people through turbulent times, to help them to observe and to act consistent with our Christian faith. To do this, we must ask ourselves who we’re being for our congregation. Very few of us wake up as fully transformed human beings. I know I don’t.

I must engage in deep prayer every morning and ask God to help me release all resistance to him, so that his spirit will flow freely through me. It’s only in this way that I can know that I’m best helping the members of my congregation to advance the kingdom of God.

I think of this as allowing God to animate me. I simply become, as Mother Theresa so eloquently stated, “a pencil in the hand of God.” I’m the instrument, the vessel, through which God’s spirit flows.

If you accept that leadership is about creating a vision, holding the space for our people, and empowering them, then this kind of intentional prayer is a prerequisite for everything that we do.

If I’m looking at the suffering of others through the eyes of Jesus, I can draw from his strength to see and to act. I am being Jesus on earth, and the power available to me is unlimited. I know that any action that I take, no matter how seemingly small, if offered in his name, will have an untold impact.

I think about the Eucharist and our simple offerings of bread and wine. Yet once blessed by God, they are returned to us as the Body and Blood of Christ. We’ll never know the full impact of a kind word, or of buying a sandwich for a person on the street, or of giving to organizations that can help large groups of people, when done in the name of God.

Begin each day with this kind of prayer. It will change your life for good, and it will do the same for those whom you lead.